The All Time Top 25 British Actresses

by topukactors | created - 01 Apr 2011 | updated - 14 Jun 2015 | Public

1. Maggie Smith

Actress | Gosford Park

One of the world's most famous and distinguished actresses, Dame Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith in Essex. Her Scottish mother, Margaret (Hutton), worked as a secretary, and her English father, Nathaniel Smith, was a teacher at Oxford University. Smith has been married twice: to actor ...

A legendary actress. Dame Maggie Smith has appeared in many well known films. Often she is not required to show her full acting range but, when the role allows, she can be absolutely superb. The Prime of Miss. Jean Brodie was one of her best roles. Mrs. Delahunty in My House in Umbria was another great role. As well as being a great dramatic actress, Smith has brilliant comic timing.

2. Penelope Wilton

Actress | The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Penelope Wilton was born on June 3, 1946 in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England as Penelope Alice Wilton. She is an actress, known for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Match Point (2005). She was previously married to Ian Holm and Daniel Massey.

Penelope Wilton is a very versatile and talented actress. She has appeared in many well known films and TV series. For many years she worked steadily, sometimes in good character parts, other times in starring roles. Recently it seems her great talent has finally been recognised and she is now considered by many to be in the very top echelon of actors.

3. Brenda Blethyn

Actress | Pride & Prejudice

After twenty years of hard work on stage and both television and film, there are not many other actresses who deserved the success, recognition and stardom which Brenda Blethyn has now achieved.

Born in 1946 in Ramsgate, Kent, England, she started her career at British Rail in the 1960s. Saving ...

A brilliant actress. One of her best roles was as repressed housewife Miriam Dervish in TV comedy Outside Edge, alongside Robert Daws. Was also excellent in Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies.

4. Patricia Routledge

Actress | Keeping Up Appearances

Daughter of Catherine and Isaac Routledge. Her father was a haberdasher, and, during WWII, the family lived weeks at a time in the basement of her father's shop. She attended Birkenhead High School, where she sang in the choir and ran the Sunday School. She studied English at Liverpool University, ...

One of the top British TV actresses in the 1990s. Patricia Routledge had a commanding screen presence as Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping up appearances. Only such a brilliant actress as Routledge could get away with such over the top acting (one of her trade marks was looking at something twice and only realising what it was the second time). This just made the character even funnier than it already was. Also very versatile, a master of her craft. After Keeping up apperances she played Hetty Wainthropp, a completely different character, but another great Routledge performance.

5. Celia Johnson

Actress | Brief Encounter

Celia Johnson was an English actress, once nominated for an Academy Award. Johnson was born in the town of Richmond, Surrey in 1908. Richmond was incorporated into Greater London in 1965, as part of an administrative reform. Celia's parents were John Robert Johnson and Ethel Griffiths. Neither of ...

Dame Celia Johnson was a legendary actress of the past. She was brilliant as headmistress Miss Mackay in The prime of Miss. Jean Brodie, alongside Maggie Smith.

6. Claire Bloom

Actress | Clash of the Titans

Age has not taken the flower off this Bloom. The well-known and highly respected stage, screen and television actress Claire Bloom continues to be in demand as an octogenarian actress and looks as beautiful as ever.

She was born Patricia Claire Blume on February 15, 1931, in Finchley, North London, ...

A great actress. She is the master of the disapproving silence, as seen in her role of Lady Marchmain in the 1981 TV version of Brideshead Revisited. This was just one of many fine roles in her long career.

7. Kate Winslet

Actress | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Ask Kate Winslet what she likes about any of her characters, and the word "ballsy" is bound to pop up at least once. The British actress has made a point of eschewing straightforward pretty-girl parts in favor of more devilish damsels; as a result, she's built an eclectic resume that runs the gamut...

Kate Winslet is one of the top British actresses of modern times. Winslet appeared in a major role in a big Hollywood film when only in her early twenties (Titanic), a great performance. Another fine role was in Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Many fine roles may lie ahead.

8. Lindsay Duncan

Actress | Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Lindsay Duncan was born on November 7, 1950 in Edinburgh, Scotland as Lindsay Vere Duncan. She is known for her work on Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), About Time (2013) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). She is married to Hilton McRae. They have one child.

This Scottish character actress has had many fine roles over a career that stretches back to the 1970s. She was excellent as Marilyn Truman in Shooting the past.

9. Helen Mirren

Actress | RED

Dame Helen Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London. Her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (Rogers), was from a working-class English family, and her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, was a Russian-born civil servant, from Kuryanovo, whose own father was a diplomat. ...

A great actress that has been around a long time. She was excellent as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. She has played many other well known roles.

10. Anna Massey

Actress | Peeping Tom

Anna Massey was born on August 11, 1937 in Thakeham, West Sussex, England as Anna Raymond Massey. She was an actress, known for Peeping Tom (1960), Frenzy (1972) and The Machinist (2004). She was married to Dr. Uri Andres and Jeremy Brett. She died on July 2, 2011 in London, England.

A great character actress for over fifty years, Anna Massey played many great roles (often supporting roles). Massey was very versatile.

11. Joan Sanderson

Actress | The Great Muppet Caper

Joan Sanderson was a well known British television and stage actress. During several seasons at Stratford Upon Avon, she played the roles of Goneril in King Lear, Constance in King John, and Queen Margaret in Richard III. In a single season at the Old Vic she appeared in The Mousetrap, and in 1981 ...

Joan Sanderson was superb at playing battleaxe characters. She had brilliant comic timing. After a memorable guest appearance in Fawlty Towers, Sanderson appeared alongside Prunella Scales again in After Henry. Watching her in this role (as Scales' interfering elderly mother Eleanor) was very enjoyable. Sadly, Sanderson died not long after filming of the fourth series was completed.

12. Lesley Manville

Actress | Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville was born on March 12, 1956 in Brighton, East Sussex, England. She is a multi award-winning actress of theatre, film, and television, and has worked extensively with director Mike Leigh. She is known for Another Year (2010), All or Nothing (2002), Topsy-Turvy (1999), and Secrets & ...

Often appearing in Mike Leigh films, Lesley Manville is a great actress. Brings to life quite a small seemingly insignificant part in Secrets and Lies.

13. Eileen Atkins

Actress | Gosford Park

Eileen Atkins was born in a Salvation Army Women's Hostel in north London. Her father was a gas meter reader; her mother, a seamstress and barmaid. A drama teacher taught her how to drop her Cockney accent, and she studied Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. Her breakthrough role in "The Killing of ...

Dame Eileen Atkins is a superb versatile actress. Although she has appeared a lot on the stage, Atkins has also had a long movie and TV career. She has never really had the very great film and TV roles that a person of her talent deserves.

14. Wendy Hiller

Actress | Murder on the Orient Express

Wendy Hiller, daughter of Frank and Marie Hiller, was born on 15th August 1912 in Bramhall, near Stockport, Cheshire, England. She was educated at Winceby House School, Bexhill then moved on to Manchester Repertory Theatre. She appeared on stage in Sir John Barry's tour of Evensong, then as Sally ...

Dame Wendy Hiller was a great actress of yesteryear.

15. Jessica Tandy

Actress | Driving Miss Daisy

A beloved, twinkly blue-eyed doyenne of stage and screen, actress Jessica Tandy's career spanned nearly six and a half decades. In that span of time, she enjoyed an amazing film renaissance at age 80, something unheard of in a town that worships youth and nubile beauty. She was born Jessie Alice ...

This legendary Hollywood actress was born and bred in Britain. She began her career in British films in the 1930s. Near the end of her career she won an Oscar for a brilliant performance in Driving Miss Daisy. Continued working until death in her mid 80s in 1994.

16. Hayley Mills

Actress | Pollyanna

Born Hayley Catherine Rose Vivien Mills in London, England, on Thursday, April 18th, 1946, she is the daughter of the great actor Sir John Mills and the well-known novelist-playwright Mary Hayley Bell. Her sister is the actress Juliet Mills. She grew up in her parents' home, an outgoing, funny ...

As a teenager, Hayley Mills was a brilliant talent. She acted many an adult actor off the screen. Probably the greatest child star of all time. In her early twenties, she gave a good performance in Twisted Nerve. Nearly all of her best roles were in the 1960s.

17. Stephanie Cole

Actress | Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Stephanie Cole was born in Warwickshire, England, UK. At the age of 15 she auditioned for, and was accepted to, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She began her career at the age of 17 playing a 90-year-old woman. She went on to play notable television roles, which included appearing in all 30 ...

A top actress on British TV in the 1980s and 1990s, Stephanie Cole's career took off with Tenko. Cole never became typecast, always playing different roles, many of them to perfection. Is best known as Diana Trent in Waiting for god in the early 1990s.

18. Jo Hartley

Actress | Eddie the Eagle

Jo Hartley was born in Oldham, Lancashire. Attended North Chadderton Comprehensive School. At the age of 11 years old, performed in 'The Sound Of Music' as Gretel. Jo got her first taste for acting.

Later, she went on to join Oldham Theatre Workshop where she stayed for several years. At the age of ...

Like Lesley Manville in Secrets and Lies, Jo Hartley brought a small seemingly insignificant role to life in Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes. Meadows cast her again in This Is England. Hopefully will go on to have a great career.

19. Gwen Taylor

Actress | Life of Brian

Gwen Taylor was born on February 19, 1939 in Derby, England. She is an actress, known for Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), A Bit of a Do (1989) and The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978). She has been married to Graham Reid since 1996.

A top character actress since the 1970s, Gwen Taylor has played many varied roles, yet has never really been recognised for being the great British actress she is.

20. Prunella Scales

Actress | Howards End

Prunella Scales was born on June 22, 1932 in Sutton Abinger, Surrey, England as Prunella Margaret Rumney Illingworth. She is an actress, known for Howards End (1992), Fawlty Towers (1975) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). She has been married to Timothy West since October 1963. They have two ...

A fine versatile British comedy actress that played lead roles in hit sitcoms in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Her 1960s hit was as Kate Starling in Marriage Lines with Richard Briers. In the 1970s she appeared in her most well known role, Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers alongside John Cleese. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she played Sarah France in After Henry alongside Joan Sanderson.

21. Margaret Leighton

Actress | The Go-Between

Tall, reedy, thin-browed, light-haired British award-winning theatre actress Margaret Leighton was born in Worchestershire, England, on February 26, 1922, the daughter of a businessman. Expressing an early desire to act, she quit school at age 15 and auditioned and joined Sir Barry Jackson's ...

A fine British character actress of yesteryear, Margaret Leighton sadly died in her mid 50s. Just witness her performance as Madame Orloff in From Beyond the Grave! She turned a good horror film into a comedy for a few brief minutes.

22. Billie Whitelaw

Actress | The Omen

Billie Whitelaw first appeared on the radio aged 11. She made her theatrical debut in 1950 and in films from 1953. She has made a speciality of playing intense, single-purposed women. Also, (on stage), she has appeared in many of the stranger plays by Samuel Beckett.

Billie Whitelaw was a very versatile actress. In the early part of her career, Whitelaw often played strong willed characters. She gave a brilliant performance in Twisted Nerve in 1968. In 1999 she played a good supporting role in Shooting the past, which was very different to many of her earlier roles.

23. Patricia Hodge

Actress | Miranda

Patricia Hodge was born on September 29, 1946 in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England as Patricia Ann Hodge. She is known for her work on Miranda (2009), The Elephant Man (1980) and The Falklands Play (2002). She was previously married to Peter Douglas Owen.

Brilliant at playing upper class sometimes snooty characters, Patricia Hodge is a superb actress.

24. Glynis Johns

Actress | Mary Poppins

Musical-voiced Glynis Johns is the daughter of actor Mervyn Johns. Best known for her light comedy roles and often playful flirtation, Glynis was born in South Africa while her parents were on tour there (her mother was a concert pianist) but was always proud of her Welsh roots and took delight in ...

A fine Welsh character actress that had a long career.

25. Kate Dickie

Actress | Red Road

Kate Dickie was born in 1971 in East Kilbride, Scotland. She is an actress and producer, known for Red Road (2006), Prometheus (2012) and Filth (2013).

Kate Dickie is a Scottish actress that gave a great performance in Red Road.

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